Warning: Plot spoilers ahead.
There are many unusual features of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967). One of the most striking is the use of characters. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” focuses on one fictional Central American town, Macondo, and tells the story through the thoughts of the town’s pivotal family, the Buendias.
Sounds normal enough. But the later generations of Buendias act nearly in the same way as the earlier generations. They are even named after their ancestors, which can make following just who is who in the novel rather difficult for North American readers. At one point after a civil war, it’s nearly impossible to tell one Jose Arcadio from another. Which is actually the point. One of the novel’s themes is that everything that happened once will happen again.
Whether they are named Jose Arcadio or just Arcadio, these are the dreamers of the family. An Arcadio founded Moncondo and brought the magician Melquiades into the family. Although sometimes their dreams are impractical, at other times their plans show patient forethought. They spend much of their lives alone with their dreams.
The Aurelianos are more of the doers and shakers of the world. They can see the future, they fight unwinnable wars and fall in love with doomed women. It is an Aureliano that is the last surviving family member and is present at Moncando’s demise, which the Aureliano inadvertently brings about.
Two characters share the name and both become the matriarch of the family home. They love live, are practical, vivacious and yet have a strong belief in superstitions. Although the first Ursula lives a long life and the second a short life, they neatly bookend the family line.
These are angelic, incredibly beautiful women that die young. They seem to have wisdom far older than their years. They also become saints or nuns and live more through their legends than in their actual lives. Marquez very rarely peeps into the heads of the Remedios and we are left to puzzle about them.
There are a few mistresses and wives that act more like mistresses than wives. There is also one virgin woman, Amaranta, which her nephew falls in love with. She comes in between a couple of relationships and in her meddling winds up dying alone. In contrast, there is another mistress that dies alone but has a lot happier life, Pilar Ternera. She is a fortune teller and then past teller and finally a brothel madam. Although spurned by the ones they loved best, the mistresses tend to go on and become respected in the town even though everyone knew they were defying sexual norms.
This is the only major character that stands out as not having any counterparts. He is a magician wandering with a band of gypsies when he meets the family patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia. During his time with the Buendias, he leaves, dies, comes back, dies again, comes back as a ghost and even as a ghost keeps his room clean. He is the story writer of the town and quite possibly Marquez himself. Melquiades writes the town’s history and future in Sanskrit. After a tumultuous lifetime, a Buendia finally breaks the code and that is the end of the town as well as the novel.